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July 28, 2015

SEPTA announces new sales date for papal visit passes

Lottery will be used to determine who gets a rail pass that weekend

Need to use Regional Rail to get into Philadelphia during the papal visit? Hope you're feeling lucky. 

SEPTA officials announced Tuesday a new online sales date for the special Regional Rail passes required to travel into Philadelphia during the papal visit after an earlier sale was aborted when crushing demand helped crash the website. 

This time, SEPTA will use a lottery to determine who will get to buy a pass. 

Requests to enter the lottery — the only acceptable Regional Rail fare accepted on Saturday, Sept. 26 and Sunday, Sept. 27 — can be made all day on Monday, August 3 at a link on SEPTA's website

In each lottery submission, customers can request up to 10 passes for each day. But customers who attempt to boost their chances by making multiple submissions could be rejected.  

Winners will be informed Thursday, Aug. 6 by email. Ticketleap, a Philadelphia-based online ticket vendor, will handle the logistics of the lottery, including weeding out fraud or duplicate requests. The website will be hosted by Amazon. The rail passes will be mailed to the winners. 

"Everyone has the same chance of being selected no matter what time you make your entry," SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said. "There's no need to set your alarm clock for midnight and be standing beside your computer so that you can log on to enter the lottery. You can do it any time during the day."

No weight will be given to customers purchasing passes to see Pope Francis or those needing them to get to work, Williams said. She encouraged people who do not receive a pass to consider using SEPTA's subway, bus and trolley services. Those services, however, are expected to be truncated in some cases.

SEPTA initially set July 20 as the launch date for the online sale. But more than 50,000 people immediately tried to purchase passes, crashing the website. The rush likely was caused by the limited number of passes available — only 175,000 will be sold for each day.

Williams said SEPTA did not anticipate the high demand it witnessed during the initial sale.

"What we've learned is when you have a high-demand, but limited quantity of passes, a real-time, sales model, eCommerce site is not a viable solution," Williams said.

Monthly transit passes and cash fares will not be accepted on either day that Pope Francis is visiting Philadelphia. Anyone traveling into Center City via Regional Rail must purchase the special pass.

A "few" people were able to purchase passes during the initial sale, Williams said. The remaining tickets are expected to sell out through the lottery.

SEPTA needs to hold the sale by early August to ensure that the passes can be mailed in time to people traveling considerable distances to visit Philadelphia.

In an attempt to expedite travel into Center City, SEPTA will only shuttle passengers from 18 Regional Rail stations. The rail passes, which cost $10, will only be good for travel from the station selected.

When entering their lottery submissions, customers will be asked to list their top three station preferences for departure. They also can select preferred departure times.

    After the initial online sale failed, SEPTA officials said they would consider switching the vendor, CapTech, which was paid $110,000 to construct the website. 

    Hiring Ticketleap to sell passes via lottery will cost SEPTA about $300,000, bringing the agency's total bill to $410,000, Williams said. Some of that will be offset by a $1.95 handling fee that was in place before the vendor change.

    The initial website, created by CapTech, will be used to sell a special three-day transit pass, valid Sept. 26 to Sept. 28, for travel on SEPTA subways, buses and trolleys. It also will later be used as SEPTA's online transit store.

    "The current site is about 15 years old," Williams said. "It needed to be updated. All along, we had expected to repurpose the eCommerce site for the papal passes to our transit store."

    A sale date for the three-day transit passes, which cost $10, has not been announced. Those passes will be available for purchase both online and at SEPTA stations. 

    Unlike the Regional Rail system, standard SEPTA transit passes and tokens can be used on subways, buses and trolleys during the papal visit. 

    Staff writer Michael Phillis contributed to this report.